Family, friends and fools: understanding Business as Mission

This article by IBEC Ventures Training Director Larry Sharp was originally published in CPN On Point.

The last edition of CPN On Point presented an introduction to Business as Mission (BAM), as a means of gaining access to strategic and unreached places through building businesses worldwide. This article takes that discussion to the next and practical level.

Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Every follower of Jesus should examine how God has made him/her as unique – with interests, skills, experiences, spiritual giftedness. These attributes usually relate to a marketplace job. Os Guinness states it well, “…whatever is the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our greatest gifts.” Or in the words of Bonnie Wurzbacher, Vice-President of Coca Cola: “You don’t get meaning from your work, you bring meaning to your work.”

Many Christians mistakenly see their work life as distinct and separate from their spiritual life. This is an old error, a remnant of first century dualism, which separated the spiritual from the secular; and the clergy from the laity. Wurzbacher noted that “What we need is to understand the Biblical worldview that says that there is no secular-sacred split and God wants us to understand that what we do should fulfill and advance God’s purposes in the world.”

Christians in business see their work as a testimony and a mission. Michael Cardone, CEO of Cardone Industries says that “service and excellence create a platform to talk about who God is and Jesus Christ.” And “I am not called to be a pastor or missionary; I’m called to be a business man and I see no difference.”

Similarly David Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby notes that “…we try in all decisions to ask what God would have us do…we don’t put our Christian faith on the shelf when we come to work.”

The idea behind Business as Mission (BAM) is to take a concept, and use business in North America as a replicable model to the world. Gil Sheehan, President and a founder of Barrington Gifts talked about his factory in China in these terms: “Everyday on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship.” With this business mindset, work is ministry and work is worship – and the “spiritual bottom line” is the numerous employees and community populace who are now following Christ.

Another example is entrepreneur Bill Job, who mentored Barrington Gifts, and started his own company in China which eventually employed over 600 people. He sees business as a replicable structure to reach for eternal value.

These are working models of BAM overseas. But it takes many people to build such a success story. The opportunity to participate is as broad as our business imagination.

The first way to become involved in BAM is the direct use of our business skill and experience. Bill Job once told me that he could have saved several years of his life if he had had some expertise from others to integrate into his efforts.

Business know-how is very much needed by Christian entrepreneurs overseas: management, strategic thinking, human resource management, product development, marketing, financial oversight, accounting, technology, legal, and logistics– all of these skills are needed. A good place to start such an effort would be a trip to a BAM company, to catch the vision for how to make a difference. Once a connection is made, coaching and consulting is mostly accomplished through Skype or other continent-continent communication. IBEC Ventures looks to make such connections between Christians in business and BAM companies overseas.

A second way to become involved is to become a BAM advocate. Young people with an interest in business need to be challenged to integrate faith into their workplace and to consider how they can make a difference on the international stage.

Finally, BAM entrepreneurs need investors. The top two concerns of overseas business owners and entrepreneurs are (i) Financial Capital and (ii) Human Capital.

Just as some of us can go overseas to provide expertise, some can make financial investments in BAM enterprises. Normally, investors seek safe and predictable returns. Investment in startups in countries that most need it – where there are highest levels of poverty, injustice, unemployment, and the most unreached spiritually – is high risk. Such investing is for the courageous, for those convinced that God’s work requires taking a risk.

It has been said that startup businesses get their capital from “Family, Friends and Fools.” Some call this “Love Capital”. In a sense, this is what BAM investors do.

They are family, as we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, adopted into one family from every nation under heaven.

They are friends, available in time of uncertainty, ready to participate.

And they are fools – fools for the sake of Jesus Christ, willing to take on high risk investments that look beyond the accountant’s bottom line to the spiritual bottom line that earns eternal dividends that can never be lost.

Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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